Markazi’s NFL Mock Draft First Round

Here are the final predictions from The Sporting Tribune's Arman Markazi on how the first round of the NFL draft will unfold.

1. Carolina Panthers: QB Bryce Young (Alabama)

The Panthers traded up and paid a premium to find the future face of the franchise. After a short stint where CJ Stroud was seen as the possible pick here, I’d be very shocked if Young isn’t the first name we hear on Thursday night. If he was 3-4 inches taller, we would be talking about one of the better quarterback prospects to come into the draft in recent memory. Unbelievable IQ and anticipation for the position and has played under the bright lights and expectations of being the Crimson Tide QB. 

2. Houston Texans: DE Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech)

Although I would personally take a quarterback here, there’s enough reason to think that the pick will be on the defensive side of the ball. CJ Stroud’s agent, David Mulugheta, also represents Deshaun Watson and it’s likely that the organization wants to steer clear of that situation. The other two quarterbacks remaining are high ceiling-low floor players and aren’t ready to play Day 1 anyway. They can target another developmental quarterback with the 12th pick like Hendon Hooker or in later rounds and take a defensive game changer here. I like Anderson more as he’s the safer option but there’s a lot of smoke around Wilson being the pick here as’s Lance Zierlein first reported. I trust his sources and will plug Wilson here.

3. Arizona Cardinals: DE/OLB Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama)

Barring a trade with a team coming up to take a quarterback, I see the Cardinals taking an edge player between Anderson and Wilson. Anderson is a “double all day” in scouting terms and is a plug and play prospect that played under Nick Saban for three years, started as a freshman, and excelled with 204 tackles and 34.5 sacks in those three years. It’s hard to argue against that resume and it doesn’t hurt that his intangibles are off the charts. He’s not the sexiest pick, but the Cardinals would be smart to plug Anderson into a defense that already has solid playmakers already in place. 

4. Indianapolis Colts: QB CJ Stroud (Ohio State)

Who would’ve thought a couple months ago that the Colts would have the opportunity to take CJ Stroud and not have to trade up in the process. Although his stock has slightly dipped in recent weeks because of poor S2 cognitive testing numbers he’s a solid prospect with outstanding measurable and arm talent. He is seasoned enough (25 starts/21-4 record/81-12 TD/INT ratio) where he could be ready to start Week 1 for the Colts and the run game the team has in place will give him time to mature and grow into the position. Stroud and Colts running back Jonathan Taylor are a promising backfield for any Colts fan ready to turn the page on last year’s struggles.

5. Seattle Seahawks: DT Jalen Carter (Georgia)

The Seahawks either go with a quarterback here or take what could be the best player of the draft in Georgia’s Jalen Carter. The Seahawks have never been scared of taking a top talent with some reported baggage and this is no different. Carter’s stock has taken a hit since the end of the season with an arrest (reckless driving and street racing) and also a bad showing during his pro day in which he showed up heavy, didn’t participate in getting timed, and struggled to finish certain drills. Although these are huge red flags, the tape is the tape and the tape is damn good.  That and the re-signing of reigning NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Geno Smith to a three-year, $75 million contract has me leaning Carter who could be a problem for the league if he keeps his head on straight.

6. Detroit Lions: QB Anthony Richardson (Florida)

Most mocks have the Lions drafting a corner to replace the newly departed Jeff Okudah. I, however, see this team as the readiest to take the next step and have the assets (four picks in the first 55 including picks 6 and 18) to take some home run swings. That’s why I have them taking Richardson, whose 40 time, broad jump and vertical jump numbers were in the 98-99th percentile of quarterbacks ever to test at the combine. He is very raw and has a lot to work on with decision making but his potential is endless. Size, speed, arm strength and swagger, why not let him grow behind Jared Goff and see if you can hit a grand slam in a division that just lost Aaron Rodgers? Cornerbacks can’t win you division titles, but signal callers sure can.  

7. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State)

The Raiders signed Jimmy Garappolo to a three-year, $48.5 million contract with $46 million guaranteed and although Will Levis is very appealing here, I think the Raiders go corner or offensive tackle to fill other needs on a team that blew many big leads last year. Right tackle is a huge hole and Paris Johnson is my top bookend prospect that could eventually create a top tandem with left tackle Kolten Miller. I have seen cases over and over again where the way to quickly turn around a team is through the line of scrimmage. Johnson will set a tone for a team that will count on the run game, smart decision making from the quarterback and killing the clock against high powered division foes like the Chiefs and Chargers.

8. Atlanta Falcons: DE/OLB Nolan Smith (Georgia)

The Falcons beat writers seem to have it down to three possible options: running back Bijan Robinson, edge rusher Nolan Smith and cornerback DevonWitherspoon. Robinson would be my pick personally as he could help take pressure off young quarterback Desmond Ridder, but with the devaluation of the running back position these days I’ll lean towards the hometown product that has moved up the draft boards. Smith has killed the testing portion of the draft process and brings the premium of pass rush to a team that direly needs it.

9. Chicago Bears: OT Peter Skoronski (Northwestern)

The Bears traded down from the first overall pick and gained a ton of draft capital in the process and a nice player in DJ Moore. They only moved down eight slots and are still in a position to get a top talent. I see them addressing the offensive line to help quarterback Justin Fields, who at times last year was running for his life, very well I might add. Northwestern product, Skoronski, gives them a cornerstone blindside protector that can start the rebuild of this offensive line that needs it. They can address the defensive side of the ball in the upcoming rounds.

10. Philadelphia Eagles: RB Bijan Robinson (Texas)

You don’t usually see a Super Bowl runner-up in the Top 10 but that’s what Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has set up for himself through shrewd decision making. His team last year was one of the most stacked in recent history but came up just short. Free agency has ravaged a lot of that talent and after making Jalen Hurts the highest paid player in NFL history, I would say the window for them is right now. As if their running game wasn’t elite enough, if they add the best running back prospect to come into the draft since Saquon Barkley, they could pound teams into submission. Although I have my reservations about how much the Eagles and other teams value the position I have to make this pick for them just because I want it to happen. What an amazing addition he would be next to Hurts. Best way to replace high quality players? Draft the best players available and Robinson could be argued as the cream of this year’s crop. 

11. Tennessee Titans: QB Will Levis (Kentucky)

The Titans did draft Malik Willis out of Liberty last year to possibly be the quarterback of the future. His early audition wasn’t too promising, and the third-round pick investment isn’t so much where they can’t dip their toes back in the position again. Levis is an ultra talented quarterback with a huge arm and underrated athleticism. My concerns with him involve his record in college and his play against the top tier defenses he faced in the SEC. It doesn’t make it any better that he also puts mayonnaise in his coffee, but that’s a story for another time. With Willis and Levis, the Titans have a great chance of coming out of these two drafts with a starting quarterback to replace Ryan Tannehill. 

12. Houston Texans: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State)

The Texans might be upset that Levis, the player some think they might take at No. 2 gets snapped from them at 11, however, it’s not a bad consolation prize to get this year’s top pass catcher in Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He burst onto the scene in the 2022 Rose Bowl against Utah (15 receptions for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns) and hasn’t looked back since. He may have an underwhelming 40 time but his short area quickness is special and reminds me of Julian Edelman. 

13. Green Bay Packers: TE Dalton Kincaid (Utah)

Although some have Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer ahead of him in rankings, Kincaid to the Packers has been a link for quite some time now. This may be early for the position, but with Robert Tonyan going to the rival Bears in the off-season there is a huge void in the position. I can see the Packers trying to move up for Smith-Njiba or moving back to secure Kincaid at a cheaper price. He’s the best pass catching tight end in the class and will give quarterback Jordan Love a much-needed insurance policy.

14. New England Patriots: CB Devon Witherspoon (Illinois)

Witherspoon could go as high as No. 6 in the draft to the Lions so getting him at No. 14 would be a huge coup for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Witherspoon is an ultra competitive corner, who uses his aggressiveness to his advantage against receivers, resulting in a high number of pass breakups. His low completion rate against (34.9%) is just a product of his high level route recognition and anticipation skills. The Patriots usually do well with defensive backs and I expect no difference in this situation.

15. New York Jets: OT Broderick Jones (Georgia)

The Jets just acquired Aaron Rodgers and didn’t have to give up a top 15 pick to do so. They move down 2 picks and still get the guy they wanted. Jones comes from a powerhouse program at Georgia and has great athleticism and nimble feet for the position. If Mekhi Becton can finally turn into the player the team had hoped for when they drafted him, the Jets can solidify the tackle spots on their offensive line for years to come.

16. Washington Commanders: CB Christian Gonzalez (Oregon)

Gonzalez could’ve and probably should’ve gone higher than this but with the offensive side of the ball stealing the show so far, the Commanders come up big with a potential shutdown corner out of Oregon. With unbelievable measurables for the position (6-foot-1, 200 pounds, 32-inch arms, 41.5 vert, and running a 4.38 40), Gonzalez has the potential to be a player the Commanders haven’t had since Champ Bailey. He could do better with his awareness and anticipation but the tools are all there to succeed at the next level.  

17. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Darnell Wright (Tennessee)

The Steelers and Darnell Wright are a match made in heaven. A massive, smash mouth football player who bullies and pancakes his opponents into the ground. He has seen his stock rise to the point where he can be a top 10 pick so the Steelers may have to move up to make this happen. Some team is going to get a dominating right tackle that will set the tone.

18. Detroit Lions: DT Calijah Kancey (Pittsburgh)

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Undersized defensive tackle from Pitt that dominated the pre-draft process. Sound like Aaron Donald? Well I’m not saying he’s him but Kancey did have the fastest 40 time for the position since 2003 (4.67) beating out Donald by a hair, and also plays with a similar demeanor. Incredibly explosive and great at using leverage, Kancey was productive (14.5 sacks and 27.5 TFLs in 2 years) in college and could have a bright future on a young, arrow-up Lions squad.  

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Brian Branch (Alabama)

Death, taxes, and an Alabama defensive back being drafted in the first round. Branch is one of the safer picks in the draft. No pun intended, but this is a safety that can come down and be shifty enough to play the slot receiver, strong enough to pick up a tight end, and smart enough to quarterback a defense. Having started three games as a freshman for a Saban national title defense, playing early is no worries for this player. He can create a lethal combination with Antoine Winfield Jr. and the rest of the Bucs defense.    

20. Seattle Seahawks: DE Lukas Van Ness (Iowa)

The Seahawks continue their defensive line rebuild with Van Ness who was nicknamed “Hercules” by his teammates for a reason. A chiseled 6-foot-5, 272-pound pass rusher, he flashes on tape with a high energy motor and power through both the run and pass. He does need to work on his hand placement and quickness at the next level if he wants to increase his sacks.

21. Los Angeles Chargers: CB Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State)

How cool would it be to see the sons of Joey Porter and Asante Samuel on the same team? At over 6-foot-2 with 34-inch arms, Porter Jr. is perfect for a press man cover 2 scheme where he can lean on receivers and re-route them. He has to clean up some of his technique and his below average change of direction skills are a concern but the pedigree and tape is there to show that he can become a starter at the next level.

22. Baltimore Ravens: CB Cam Smith (South Carolina)

I see the Ravens targeting a receiver or someone who can stop receivers. Cam Smith just seems like a Raven to me, similar in the mold of Jimmy Smith. He’s a tall, long, outside corner that can play the ball in the air. As with most taller corners, Smith lacks fluidity and can be grabby when out of position (10 penalties in 2022). With that being said, the measurables and temperament are there to fit in nicely with the Ravens defensive backfield that took Kyle Hamilton a year ago.

23. Minnesota Vikings: QB Hendon Hooker (Tennessee)

This pick has been linked for quite some time to Hooker, who if fully healthy, would probably be contending to be a top 5-10 pick in this draft but with his ACL tear and the fact that he’s going to be a 25-year-old rookie has his stock dropped a bit. Nonetheless, his play these past two seasons was exceptional (58:5 TD/INT ratio) and he should hear his name called in the first round. The Vikings could have him rest up behind Cousins for a year before eventually taking over the job.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Myles Murphy (Clemson)

Murphy is a scheme diverse player with three years of production and outstanding size and traits for the position. He doesn’t blow you away with his explosiveness off the edge but he’s just a very solid prospect who plays hard and should give you return on your investment. The Jaguars could use a player opposite Josh Allen and Murphy could provide that immediately.    

25. New York Giants: WR Zay Flowers (Boston College)

The Giants are quickly ascending into the NFC title picture. With the rise of Daniel Jones’ play, the resurgence of Saquon Barkley back from injuries and the addition of Darren Waller, this offense is on the cusp of great things. Adding Flowers, a special playmaker out of the slot, would only continue the trend.

26. Dallas Cowboys: WR Jordan Addison (USC)

The Cowboys should be looking at offensive skill position players with their first pick. They could go Michael Mayer or even Jahmyr Gibbs but Addison is the correct pick here. The 2021 Biletnikoff winner left Pitt after the departure of Kenny Pickett and was expected to do big things at USC with Caleb Williams. He didn’t disappoint as he was first team all conference and continued to show the route running savvy that makes his game special. The Cowboys need to continue to put firepower around Dak Prescott as they try to catch the Eagles in the division.

27. Buffalo Bills: DT Bryan Bresee (Clemson)

Bresee was a top recruit coming out of high school and was expected to do great things at Clemson. Although he didn’t live up to the hype as much as they hoped, when healthy he showed the traits that made him a blue-chipper. Bresee’s best days could still be ahead of him. This pick is purely off potential, which he has a lot of and the Bills could hit big if he hits the ceiling of his potential around the likes of Von Miller and company.

28. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Michael Mayer (Notre Dame)

The Bengals have a huge hole at the tight end position and are in position to get arguably the best one in the draft. Mayer is very balanced and he’s a dominant run blocker that was an extension of the Notre Dame offensive line and a reliable pass catcher. He won’t wow you with his athleticism but that’s not his game. A very safe pick, he is a plug and play tight end that could be connected to Joe Burrow for a long time to come.

29. New Orleans Saints: CB Deonte Banks (Maryland)

This cornerback class is special, and Banks is just another reason I say that. He’s a 6-foot corner with 4.3 speed who has experience. It’s hard to argue against that this late in the first. The Saints need help at the position and Banks can step in day one and compete for a starting job. If he can play with more control, some teams are going to kick themselves for passing on him.

30. Philadelphia Eagles: DE Will McDonald IV (Iowa State)

With their other first round pick, the Eagles should take McDonald IV who is an explosive edge rusher with long arms and quickness. Moving up the draft boards since the process started, he’s seen himself comfortably in the first-round mix and could even go in the late teens. A little underweight, he could put on more size as he graduates to the next level, but all the tools and traits are there for this player to be a great addition to a defense that was great last season.

31. Kansas City Chiefs: WR Quentin Johnston (TCU)

Johnston was at one point considered a potential top 10-15 pick and possibly the first pass catcher chosen. His stock has fallen immensely but the Chiefs could take a swing on this incredible athlete and see if they can get the most out of him by pairing him with Pat Mahomes.